The arrival of a new breed of landmen on the front porches of homes in Dimock Twp. can be traced back to the White House. There, during Pres. George W. Bush’s administration, national officials with backgrounds in Texas and Western resource extraction held sway. Bush strategically appointed individuals close to the energy industry in key positions in both the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy. Vice President Dick Cheney was former chief executive of Halliburton, the company that invented the process of hydraulic fracturing. Energy policy crafted during the 9-11 era emphasized increasing energy independence, but through fossil-fuel production. Public lands and offshore areas were opened for exploration and extraction in the 2001 National Energy Policy Act. The 2005 Policy Act reduced the price to produce oil and gas domestically through tax breaks, subsidies and deregulations. The future of natural gas was solidified in particular through the “Halliburton Loophole” in the 2005 act. This loophole opened the doors for natural gas industries to expand production through hydraulic fracturing and may have created the possibility for environmental and health risks.

The gas rush that ended up in Dimock Twp. flowed straight through that loophole down K Street and up to Pennsylvania. The loophole removed the authority of the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This decision was backed by the results of a 2004 EPA study, which stated that, “the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coalbed methane wells poses little or no threat to USDWs (underground sources of drinking water).” The conclusions of this study contradicted a 1997 ruling made by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that determined that hydraulic fracturing was subject to federal safe-drinking-water regulations. Scientists within the EPA later questioned the methodology and partiality of the panel that reviewed the results of the 2004 study. There was concern that a “revolving door” between the Bush administration and the gas industry may have influenced the study’s results. In fact, soon after the study was published Weston Wilson, an employee of the EPA, wrote a letter to several congressional members and the EPA Inspector General, stating that the conclusions made in the 2004 study were “unsupported.” He stated that, “five of the seven members of this (study’s peer-review) panel appear to have conflicts-of-interest and may benefit from the EPA’s decision not to conduct further investigation or impose regulatory conditions.” He attached with the letter a full technical report on how the EPA had failed to protect groundwater from the impacts of oil and gas production.

After the Dimock Two. drilling rights had already been let, in slow response to regulatory and scientific concerns, the EPA is currently in the process of devising another, more comprehensive study of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, human health and the environment. The study is expected to begin next January with the initial results available in 2012. Until then, no one can say for sure whether hydraulic fracturing can be a safe process, especially if left unregulated by federal drinking-water regulations. With even the EPA having incomplete information and doubts from some staffers not publicly released, Dimock residents could not be expected to understand the full ramifications of the choices they made regarding land leases.

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